‘The landscape is riddled with failed promises / and premature returns’: industrial remains in Ted Hughes’ Remains of Elmet (1979) and Peter Riley’s Tracks and Mineshafts (1983)

These slides accompanied a paper on ‘lead legacy’ and British poetry given at the Reanimating Industrial Spaces session, Theories of Archaeology Group (TAG) conference, Durham, 17th – 19th Dec 2009. This focussed on the alternative (literary) heritages of these industrial constellations in the landscape, and ideas of the ‘undermined’ landscape – culminating with Paul Hyland’s phrase ‘The muse wears a hard hat’. For a copy of the paper, please contact amycutler1985@gmail.com

Commercial photograph, Dirtlow rake, mining of surface lead

Note the understated nature of many of the remains - abandoned mineshaft, Ecton hill

Possible mineshaft, near Middleton Top

Two quarries near Wirksworth

display at Peak Mining Museum, Matlock Bath - compare to Peter Riley's 'the clear-set term, ruled across the landscape'

'Lead Mining in the Peak District', 1968, compiled by members of the Peak District District Mines Historical Society and edited by Trevor D. Ford and J. H. Rieuwerts; the glossary of mining vocabulary is a key source for Peter Riley

Peter Riley, 'Following the Vein'

Cover of 'Lines on the Liver'; photograph by Beryl Riley

Frontispiece of 'Tracks and Mineshafts', taken by the commerical Derbyshire photographer Paul Hill of an exposed lead rake at Rainster Rocks

Jack Clemo, 'The Map of Clay'


from New Year Letter 

I see the nature of my kind

As a locality I love,

Those limestone moors that stretch from BROUGH


There is my symbol of us all.


Always my boy of wish returns

To those peat-stained deserted burns

That feed the WEAR and TYNE and TEES,

And, turning states to strata, sees

How basalt long oppressed broke out

In wild revolt at CAULDRON SNOUT,


The derelict lead-melting mill

Flued to its chimney up the hill,

That smokes no answer any more

But points, a landmark on BOLT’S LAW

The finger of all questions. There

In ROOKHOPE I was first aware

Of Self and Not-Self, Death and Dread:


There I dropped pebbles, listened, heard

The reservoir of darkness stirred

W. H. Auden, New Year Letter (1940)

from Glutton

Every faint gesture rebounds on us

leaving a vacant hollow in the world:

possible, unfulfilled acts embedded

in the tissue, growth points too late –

the land is riddled with failed promises

and premature returns.


He picks his way among hollows and craters,

earth funnels of abandoned mineshafts,

bracken fields, rose bushes gone wild,

dry voices ringing in the air

exhortations to labour and be patient –

derelict electricity sheds, tram lines

sunk into gravel, overgrassed courts;

he passes rows of empty cottages, hospice inmates,

boarded-up shops and brick scattered streets,

chapels and hermitages in stony wastes

all empty, sites of reflex impact,

inhabitants blasted to non-entity.

Peter Riley, Tracks and Mineshafts (1983)

from Notes on Vein Forms

The great rakes were the primary routes by which mineralising fluids reached the orefield, migrating upwards and westwards from the direction of the North Sea oilfields. The rake is thus a channel as well as a wall in the subsoil. It is an exception or as-it-were a mistake in the even spread of sedimentary strata. Limestone is a business of horizontal settling, layers of shell-dust, best understood in the images of sleep and suspension, whereas the intrusive minerals may be understood in images of dream and death. But it then becomes important that the rake is nothing like a volcanic vent, and there is no question of the challenge and valuation represented by metal being the fruit of an upsurge of “hot” emotions. The rake is integral to the limestone, though nobody understands its origins, and inhabits a much greater time-span than volcanic intervention. Its process (sic) are extensive and strict. It is a clear set term, ruled across the landscape.

Peter Riley, Two Essays (1983), this extract revised for a new edition of Tracks & Mineshafts and Lines on the Liver to come out from Shearsman Books)




On scarified gravel, cinders

and clinker chips, soils almost stable

though too poor for arable farming.

Lime slags and potteries, cement factors

quenching stubble and salt grass,


a worn sheep’s tooth tells all, licked

down to the root, a fatal abscess

finished it, just like the industry,

turned over to fallow.


The sheds are long gone, workbenches

worn smooth in the clay, a single knife handle

found there. With the sun down the flocks

return from the high pasture to the mud flats

and beyond, passing the common,

turning into fallow.

Piers Hugill, Ways Through a Field (2008)

Quarry Snow

There is no beauty in snow on trees

Compared with the pattern of flakes on these

Angular pit-growths hewn by blast,

Feathery rock of trunks that cast

Strange corded branches, loops of wire,

Over the gorge-drops. I desire

No glimpse of flower-cups smirking through

Snow fettered fields – would rather view

The quarry’s yield: a lone crowbar,

A pulley-frame, a can of tar,

Wheelbarrows soft in puffy gloom,

Or trolley-rope’s cold flaky plume,

A waggon-track with white ribbed prongs

Spanning a crevice: here belongs,

In these weird aisles of ghostly stone,

Humility of symbols’ bone.

Jack Clemo, The Map of Clay, originally published in The Clay Verge (1951)


Auden. W. H., Collected Poems (2007)

Barnatt, John and Rebecca Penny, The Lead Legacy: The Prospects for the Peak District’s Lead Mining Heritage (2004)

Clemo, Jack, The Map of Clay (1961)

Ford, Trevor D. and J. H. Rieuwerts, Lead Mining in the Peak District (1968)

Forsythe, Robert and Alan Myers, W. H. Auden: Pennine Poet (1999)

Godwin, Fay, ‘Interview’, Thumbscrew vol. 18 (2001)

Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle, ‘Historical Landscape in Ted Hughes’s Remains of Elmet’, Scigaj ed., Critical Essays on Ted Hughes (1992)

Hall, John, ‘On Lines on the Liver and Tracks and Mineshafts’, The Gig 4/5: The Poetry of Peter Riley (2000)

Houston, Douglas, ‘Landscapes of the Heart: Parallels in the Poetries of Kavanagh and Auden’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review vol. 77 no. 308 (1988)

Hufstader, Jonathan, ‘Auden’s Sacred World’, Essays in Criticism vol LIX no. 3 (2009)

Hughes, Ted and Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet (1979)

Hugill, Piers, Ways Through a Field (2008)

Hyland, Paul, Art of the Impossible (2004)

Lorimer, Hayden, ‘Poetry and place: the shape of words’, Geography vol 93 no. 3 (2008)

Lowenstein, Tom, ‘Excavation and Contemplation: Peter Riley’s Distant Points’, The Gig 4/5: The Poetry of Peter Riley (2000)

Middleton, Peter, ‘The Substance of Tracks and Mineshafts’, The Gig 4/5: The Poetry of Peter Riley (2000)

Oliver, Douglas, In The Cave of Suicession (1974)

Ottewell, Gordon, Journey from Darkness (1982)

Radley, Jeffrey, The Scarred Temple (1972)

Riley, Peter, Following the Vein (1975)

Riley, Peter, ‘Some Notes Marginal to Douglas Oliver’s In The Cave of Suicession’, Grosseteste Review vol. 12 (1979)

Riley, Peter, Lines on the Liver (1981)

Riley, Peter, Tracks and Mineshafts (1983)

Riley, Peter, Two Essays (1983)

Riley, Peter, ‘A Note on Vein Forms’, in unpublished revised form (2009)

Riley, Peter, Passing Measures: A Collection of Poems (2000)

Roe, Martin, ‘Hidden Boundaries / Hidden Landscapes: Lead-Mining Landscapes in the Yorkshire Dales’, Barnwell and Palmer eds., Post-Medieval Landscapes (2007)

Sheers, Owen, Skirrid Hill (2005)

Sheers, Owen, ‘Poetry and place: some personal reflections’, Geography vol 93 no. 3 (2008)

Skea, Ann, ‘Regeneration in Remains of Elmet, Sagar ed., The Challenge of Ted Hughes (1994)

Thrift, Nigel and John-David Dewsbury, ‘Dead geographies – and how to make them live’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space vol 18 (2000)

Tuma, Keith, ‘On Peter Riley’s Lyric Excavations’, Chicago Review vol. 43 no. 3 (1997)

Wheale, Nigel, ‘Mining the Heartfold’, The Gig 4/5: The Poetry of Peter Riley (2000)

Wright, Patrick, On Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain (1985)


~ by amycutler on January 3, 2010.

2 Responses to “‘The landscape is riddled with failed promises / and premature returns’: industrial remains in Ted Hughes’ Remains of Elmet (1979) and Peter Riley’s Tracks and Mineshafts (1983)”

  1. Hi,
    The work on this blog is really interesting. A PhD writing in a similar area, but in the english dept. is http://exeter.academia.edu/JosSmith

    Re Jack Clemo, I’m organising a conference at Exeter University which will have on diplay some of his manuscripts (journals which have mood graphs vs writing output graphs, and drafts after he lost his sight etc). I don’t know if this would be of any interest to you. Here is the website – http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/research/conferences/literaryarchive/

    In a slightly less academic vein – the os map sized poems following the Lake District tour is awesome!

    Best Wishes,


    • Hi Carrie – somehow I never spotted the alert about your message at the time! very sad to have missed the Clemo conference. Did you see they have one of his volumes (Clay Cuts) in the current British Library exhibition, ‘Writing Britain’?
      I’ve since met Jos, coincidentally…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: